Monday, 22 October 2012

iPad Research with Rhonda McEwen

Congratulations to Sabrina Morey and Stacie Carroll – teachers at Beverley School, research leads on the Touch Technology in the Classroom project, and now recipients of the recipients of the 2012 Prime Minister’s Certificate of Achievement for Teaching Excellence.  It is with great pleasure that I write these few words about my involvement with the Beverley School community as a new media researcher.  Way back in 2009 (yes, before the iPad was released in Canada!) a hallway conversation with one of the school’s teachers, Sabrina Morey, sparked the idea for taking her experiences with trying out her personal iPod touch with her students and expanding it into a research project that would eventually involve every classroom at the school.  The awards and honours that have followed are correctly aimed at Alana Grossman as principal of the school, her team of superb teachers and support staff, and most of all the praise is directed to the students who demonstrated in private moments and under the glare of the studio lights that they are exceptional.

In many of the presentations that I have made regarding the study results I reiterate a few things that I can share with you here as well.  

First, the use of touch technologies in classrooms requires planning, funding, and dedication. Even with the slick interface and modest learning curves the integration of these types of technologies into teaching and learning environments calls for innovative thinking and time. It is yet another ask of teachers who are already adapting to the joys and challenges of the special education classroom. In a paper that I recently published on the use of iOS (i.e. devices that use Apple’s operating system) in special education classrooms my co-authors and I describe the care required when attempting to integrate these technologies into curricula laden with many other things. See Campigotto, R., McEwen, R., & Demmans Epp, C. (2013). Especially social: exploring the use of an iOS application in special needs classrooms, Computers and Education, Vol 60 (1), p. 74-86, This integration or lack thereof can make or break student experiences – so the tough news is that iPads and iPods cannot be sprinkled like fairy dust onto classrooms. But on the other hand, the work at Beverley School proves that with committed school leadership and teachers, extraordinary results are possible.

Second, it takes time. For students with sensory disorders and their parents this is not a popular statement. Miracles, while possible if you look at progress within a particular lens, are slower in their evolution.  In the study we were privileged to have a few years of data to consider and we noted that it often took a few months before students were able to demonstrate statistically significant gains in expressive communication and attentions span variables. Well before that time, however, we began to see changes in student’s motivation to connect with peers and teachers expressed several anecdotes to support this every week.

Finally, while touch devices are not the answer for every child, they appear to have salience for many. At the Semaphore Lab at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, I am working with Dr. Adam Dubé on a series of experimental projects to investigate this further.
Rhonda N. McEwen, PhD.
Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
| Institute of Communication, Culture and Information Technology (UTM)
| Faculty of Information (UofT)
| Fellow St Michael's College (UofT)


  1. But on the other hand, the work at Beverley School proves that with committed school leadership and teachers, extraordinary results are possible.

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  5. Thank you, Dr. McEwen for your groundbreaking research. I am in the process of conducting research on iPad use in preschool special education classes in my school district.

  6. Great research and post, we help schools integrate this new technology into their classrooms and while it is a challenge we see that it is doing good things for education overall.